UKZN Academic Member of WHO Committee on Zika Vaccine
Professor Douglas Wassenaar of UKZN’s School of Applied Human Sciences has been appointed to a World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee to compile guidelines for the urgent development of a Zika vaccine.
The WHO expert group, which Wassenaar was invited to serve in as research ethics advisor, has produced a preliminary guide for commentary. The final version will be produced after a stakeholder consultation in Geneva this month.
According to Wassenaar, growing international concern about the risk of an international Zika virus epidemic has highlighted the need for the urgent development of a vaccine to prevent the disease. ‘The primary public health objective of vaccination in this scenario is prevention of prenatal ZIKV infection and associated microcephaly and other serious neurological anomalies in infants. Later phases will be aimed at producing population immunity to Zika,’ he explained.
This urgency has prompted WHO to convene an expert advisory group to develop product guidelines for potential vaccine developers, to ensure that important safety, scientific and ethical standards are fulfilled by any party aiming to test a preventive Zika vaccine under emergency conditions. The guidelines will also be useful to health and regulatory authorities in countries hosting such important research.
‘There are many challenges in such research because of the growing evidence of foetal microcephaly and other emerging potential complications associated with Zika infection of the mother.
‘The urgent need for a preventive technology is an additional complication, requiring that a vaccine be tested in affected communities at high risk of infection, without compromising their safety. The populations at risk are vulnerable and are often in impoverished sectors of developing countries,’ said Wassenaar.
*Professor Douglas Wassenaar, based in Psychology in the School of Applied Social Sciences, has a long association with the UKZN HIV/ AIDS Vaccines Ethics Group (HAVEG) and is the Director of the transdisciplinary South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI) and is currently also Deputy Chair of the UKZN Biomedical Research Ethics Committee (BREC). He was formerly the lead investigator on the Ethics, Law, and Human Rights Working Group of the UNAIDS African AIDS Vaccines Programme.